Another movie about mutant inbred cannibals? Already? Yes, it seems impossible, but here is Rob Schmidt’s “Wrong Turn,” arriving barely one month after Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses” and carrying with it a similarly cautionary, ecological message about the dangers of trekking off into the woods unawares. And though it substitutes for the likes of Sid Haig and Karen Black a fresher-faced cast of twentysomethings (led by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”s’ Eliza Dushku), the clear ambition here is to recapture the raw, explosively violent atmosphere of such hallmark 1970s shockers as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Hills Have Eyes.” Nice try, but no cigar. A negative pickup by Fox, dumped into theaters on Friday without benefit of press previews (or much of an ad campaign), “Wrong Turn” is steeped only in frightless torpor, from beginning to end of its 84 minutes. Audiences will wisely steer clear of this wreck.
What, one wonders, would John Denver have to say about this premise? A med student (Desmond Harrington), driving through West Virginia en route to a job interview in North Carolina, crashes his car into a van belonging to a quintet of vacationing campers, who have themselves been run off the road after puncturing their tires on a barbed-wire snare. Only that snare wasn’t placed across the road by accident; it belongs to the aforementioned family of flesh-eaters (credited, but never identified, as Three Finger, One-Eye and Saw-Tooth) that dwells in them thar hills (and evidently, like the family in “Corpses,” runs a car-towing service as a front).
Of course, our libidinous heroes and heroines — guys Scott (Jeremy Sisto) and Evan (Kevin Zegers); girls Jessie (Dushku), Carly (Emmanuelle Chiriqui) and Francine (Lindy Booth) — don’t realize this just yet. It only becomes apparent following an unduly slow, portentous sequence in which two-thirds of the group sets out in search of help — Evan and Francine stay behind to get it on, which is of course a big no-no in movies like these — and stumble upon an isolated cabin that seems like a warehouse of self-consciously cheesy horror-movie set dressings. (Inside, there are decapitated dolls, knives and axes decorating the walls and human body parts floating in the bathtub; yet, it seems to take everyone a really long time to decide they should get the hell out of there.)
At this point, screenwriter Alan McElroy more or less checks out, leaving Schmidt to put “Wrong Turn” through a series of anti-climaxes in which the youths are chased through the woods by the cannibals, with the home team slowly but surely bettering the odds until it’s down to just two preppy white kids versus three latex-costumed ghouls possessed of seemingly superhuman strength and speed. And then there are two long set-pieces — one in a wilderness watch-tower, the other back in that creepy cabin — both of which are so poorly shot and edited that it’s nearly impossible to tell what’s going on.
One might wonder what makes “Wrong Turn” so much worse than something like Victor Salva’s equally derivative “Jeepers Creepers,” in which similarly naive youngsters found themselves being pursued through uninhabited terrain by a malevolent creature. Simply that Salva showed an obvious affinity for and understanding of genre mechanics. “Creepers” was creepy — it really knew how to work the audience, how to make so many things old seem new again–whereas “Wrong Turn” looks like the unprocessed spill-off of a recycling center.
For the most part, pic’s cast seems clued-in to what junk this is, though Harrington is so particularly expressionless that it’s tough to tell whether he’s bored or just bad. Only Sisto (whose demented Billy commanded the first season of “Six Feet Under”) tries to make lemonade out of the movie’s lemons with an enjoyably ticky turn that, regrettably, bites the dust mid-way through. John S. Bartley’s underlit lensing (making Stan Winston’s elaborate makeup frequently imperceptible) and Elia Cmiral’s predictably plosive score contribute to a noticeably weak tech package.